NEW YORK – If you position yourself in just the right spot inside the gargantuan Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open, you can hear the squeal of the No. 7 subway line from a few hundred yards away on the old elevated tracks that weave through the Queens borough of New York City.
At night, too, you can see the sun sink behind the ever-famous Manhattan skyline in the distance, and – as tennis is played below – hear the hum of this city’s upwardly-mobile population drinking champagne and specialty cocktails and waiting – hoping – for one of those electric US Open points to be played before them. To them, this is entertainment. The lights! The music!
The food and the drinks! The fact that it’s set in New York City only makes it better. After all, this is the city that never sleeps. For all that makes Wimbledon the prim and proper pillar of tennis history among the sport’s greatest events, the US Open is quite the opposite of that. It’s loud, unabashedly New York in its energy, with music blaring at each changeover.
It’s the kind of zest that makes it unique. Tennis fans can be split: You either love the US Open or you hate it. The polar opinions are as different as Wimbledon and the Open themselves. But for the fans that flock to the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, most of the sentiment is not only love but a passion that fuels the buzzing energy that pulses through the grounds throughout the two weeks.
The grounds are as crowded as a Manhattan sidewalk. The food court has morphed into a what-to-eat guide of New York City. And, if there is a match that pushes deep into a deciding set on one of the outside courts, the New Yorkers there know how to seemingly climb on top of each other to get a peek.
The night sessions are the crown jewel of the US Open, however. It’s the dream of many professional tennis players to get the chance to play a night match on Arthur Ashe. This year, it could be the first time that 15-year old American rising star Coco Gauff, who just reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, steps onto the court for prime-time tennis.
What is it though? The pomp and circumstance are easily noted, but perhaps it’s more that Arthur Ashe Stadium Court plays like one of the Broadway stages does at night, with the lights beamed on it and a waiting audience wishing, wanting, hoping for a dramatic plot twist. There are heroes and villains and new stars that come out from waiting in the wings.
A match is the best of three or fives acts, but the performers never speak. Their tennis does the talking. That’s the other thing: The volume. New York fans are loud – and not just about the tennis. They have full-blown conversations courtside; they answer their phones; they make business deals. But when the tennis compels them to hush, they do.
What is most compelling about the US Open is its relationship with hardened ground, much like the famous island most of the players stay on while competing in it. The grounds are concrete and hot, sticky some days because of the humidity. It takes a certain kind of player to excel in these conditions, someone who is up for a challenge of being the last one standing.
The New York crowd usually appreciates the great effort to do so.
There is no queuing. There are no Aussie Fanatics. There is no French ambiance with a steady padding of feet between Courts Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen.
There is instead that No. 7 train and it’s squeals, delivering the people and the pressure to the tennis. You can take the commuter train or try the Long Island Expressway.No matter what, it’s not going to be easy.Because – in New York – nothing is.